Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Congresswoman Gwen Moore, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership. Thank you for being with us.


MOORE: Oh, it is absolutely my pleasure, Chairman Bond.

BOND: No, it is our pleasure. I want to begin with some questions about the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. I know you were a little bitty child when that happened, but as you grew older and found out that the Supreme Court had said that segregated schools had to end, do you remember thinking anything about this and what this might mean?

MOORE: Oh, absolutely. I lived segregation, because even though the decision was made in 1954, as you know, Chairman Bond, there were extraordinary efforts made to not comply with the law. And so I went to segregated schools and when the order for desegregation hit Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I then experienced what we called intact bussing, where they would bus the entire group of school children to a white school. We’d have separate lunch hours, separate recesses, and never was there any contact between our classroom of black children and the white children at the school.

BOND: You mean you’re segregated within this white school?

MOORE: Absolutely. We were bussed to white schools and never had any contact with the white students. I also experienced it as I grew older, as I matriculated through the school system, reached twelfth grade, felt that I was college bound, got into the classroom and found that we had inadequate — we didn’t even have separate but equal equipment — and it had a huge impact on my life. I became sort of rabble-rouser in high school, demanding a new school facility be built so that we could have adequate resources, and what really, really resonated with me about Brown v. the Board of Education specifically is that when I became a freshman in college at the tender of age of eighteen to — and discussed Brown v. the Board of Education — I found myself weeping to learn that there other eighteen-year-olds who were vehemently arguing against Brown v. the Board of Education, not as an exercise, but as really heart-felt feelings. And in my own naïve mind, I thought that all of the racists and bigots and segregationists were people who were going to die, and that — and here I found that at age eighteen I realized that I would have to live a lifetime of struggling against the same forces.

BOND: So now from today’s perspective in 2007, looking back over it, what do you think it means today?

MOORE: I think the struggle still remains, sadly. We find ourselves fighting against re-segregation of the schools as we have seen not only white flight but middle class flight out of inner cities, as we’ve seen a retreat from the desire to fund public education and to put more monies into vouchers and other sort of programs that continue the institution of separate but equal. And it sometimes feels frustrating to the civil rights warrior to know that you have got to continue to fight these same wars and these same struggles.

BOND: Now, when you were coming up, you lived a few blocks from West Division High School in Milwaukee, but the rules at the time required that you go to a segregated school.

MOORE: Absolutely. I lived seventeen blocks from an all-black high school and seven blocks from a predominantly white school. All of my brothers and sisters surnamed — had a different surname than I had, but my brothers were football jocks and basketball jocks and track stars, so when I arrived on the first day of school with a different surname I was then told that I lived in North Division’s district which was a predominantly black school.

BOND: And why didn’t they live there, too?

MOORE: Exactly. Well, I couldn’t play football.

BOND: I see. So, can you sort of say how to date the Brown decision has impacted your life?

MOORE: Well, I can tell you — I grew up I think in a very rich period of my life. I grew up at a time in the civil rights era where I learned to respect and regard the non-violent struggle for equal rights. And it was a very, very important time in my life and I think that it grounded me in issues of justice and equity and fairness that I carry with me today as an organizing principle for not only my personal life, but my life as an elected official.